This is the last installment on, "The Seven Basic Commands of Jesus."
Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Original date: March 9, 2008
I’ll never forget, as a brand new pastor the first time our little church in Western Pennsylvania had a “real live missionary” coming. I was a big missions booster in seminary and had been mentored by a great missionary and had seriously looked into going as a missionary, but God’s direction was pretty clear: stay and pastor and get people excited about missions.
So, when we had a chance for a “real live missionary” I called up every household in the church to tell them the week before he came. I was excited and I thought they’d be excited as well. And most of the families I talked to were pleasant enough and thanked me—and yes, some really were excited.
But there was this one lady. When I called her she said, “Oh pastor, I think we have enough problems in America that we shouldn’t be sending missionaries to other countries.” I couldn’t believe my ears. How could anyone hang around the message of the Bible and never get the local and global call to make disciples?
The reality is that many American Christians are right where she was. As we wrap up this series on The Seven Basic Commands of Jesus, I want to address again the worldwide dimension of the command of Jesus to make disciples.
As I said last week, for over 2,000 years, the church has existed for one prime purpose: to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Churches don’t have to strive to find God’s purpose for their church. There’s a reason we refer to Matthew 28:18-20 as the Great Commission: it defines what we’re supposed to be about as a church:
18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Remember again, Jesus didn’t tell us to make converts or church members. He wants to go and make disciples—from all nations. That means crossing any barrier or geography or cultural barrier to get the job done.
There are three things we have to understand about what He means by “make disciples.”
First, what is a disciple? That’s what we looked at two weeks ago, and we found that a disciple is someone who is learning to live, love and serve like Jesus Himself. A disciple is a person who is like Jesus.
Second, how do you make a disciple? We looked at that last week, and we saw the oikos principle—that God has placed people around us in our network of relationships as the primary people to reach for the gospel. These people are the “low hanging fruit” that we can real with the message in a natural and relational way.
Third, what’s the full implication when He says, “of all nations”? That’s what we’re looking at today.
If you hang around Christians long enough, and if the topic of missions comes up, you’re going to hear the term “mission field.” As in, “Did you hear the Sanchez family is now on the mission field?” When I was a brand new Christian and I heard people talking like that, I always imagined a plane landing in a big clearing on the edge of a jungle—that must be a “missions field”!
Well, I was confused on that. But one thing is clear: the mission “field” is “out there.” It’s across an ocean, up a river, in a rainforest, somewhere away. Right?
Some people don’t like the idea of missions. Who are we, they say, to interfere with these nice natives, who are happy with their own beliefs? And “don’t we have enough problems in America?”
Well, first of all most missionaries will tell you that unreached, unevangelized people are rarely happy with life. The Waodoni of Ecuador had a homicide rate so high before being reached that it’s estimated that two-thirds of all Waodonis died a violent death. The Mouks of Papua New Guinea had a belief system that was without hope and relied on deception and murder to sustain it. So we are not talking about happy people being bothered by missionaries! We’re talking about miserable people, real people with hopes and dreams, who need a new way of life.
Some would abolish missions on another ground. They say that God is a merciful God who doesn’t care what people believe—that there are “many ways to God.” They deny the truth of Acts 4:12, where Peter says:
“Salvation is found in no one else [except Jesus], for there is no other name [expect Jesus’] under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
The Bible says again and again that people are lost, now and forever, if they don’t know God through His Son, Jesus Christ. This belief that Jesus is the only way is the spring that winds the clock of missions passion. So long as there are people who haven’t heard the Good News about Jesus, we can’t rest. So long as they haven’t heard, God hasn’t received the glory He deserves; so long as they haven’t heard, some of our fellow human beings are being denied the best thing in life: knowing Jesus. And so we go and make Him known.
And we also go because of the direct command of Jesus. Once again, Matthew 28:19-20:
19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
That’s a direct command of Jesus! If Jesus is our Lord, let’s be clear: these are His marching orders.
Now—how do we go? Remember last week when I talked about “drive-by evangelism”? That’s where somebody lobs the gospel at people from a safe distance. They leave a tract, they use a bullhorn, and they try to shoehorn the gospel in an unnatural and even manipulative way.
I think a lot of people think missionaries are the ultimate drive-bys. I had a conversation with someone last fall that was under the impression that missionaries live compounds, get lavishly paid and barely know anything about the lands they work in. I had to tell him that his information was at least 100 years out of date—if it was every so!
Instead, modern missions takes the Bible in one hand and an in-depth knowledge of the people and culture with whom they work in the other. There are a high percentage of missionaries with degrees in anthropology who’ve learned the ways of the people in great detail, who learn in depth the language, customs, traditions and beliefs of the people. Then they learn how to take the message of Jesus and communicate it to the people in a way that really relates to the people there.
There’s a name for this—we call it contextualization. It’s a practice as old as the Bible. We see it in the missionary strategy of Paul in the Book of Acts and in his letters. When addressing a Jewish audience, he emphasized Jesus as the long-expected Messiah who fulfilled the Scriptures. When he was with Gentiles, he emphasized Jesus as the Wisdom of God, the one who makes life make sense. He writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul’s not talking about being wishy-washy. He’s talking about telling about Jesus in a way that makes sense to people. He talks one way to Jews, another to Greeks, another to Romans, another to barbarians, and so on. If you haven’t communicated Jesus in a way that makes sense to the people you’re talking to, they you haven’t done anything at all. Call it drive-by evangelism or drive-by missions, it’s no good if people don’t understand it. You have to connect.
What an incredible privilege it is to connect, to be part of making Jesus known, whether it’s across the street or across the world.
One thing I’ve learned is that in the Bible, there isn’t a wall between local and global evangelism. It’s all just evangelism—making Jesus known among those who don’t know Him now. We use the modern term “missions” usually to mean evangelism that crosses cultural, language and geographic barriers. And that’s fine. It’s a handy term. But the Bible itself sees all evangelism as important and all part of the same thing—making Christ known to people who don’t know Him.
I mentioned that some people don’t think missions isn’t necessary because they don’t believe what God says in His word about Jesus being the only way God has designated to make people right with Himself. In other words, they want to push the mission field away as unneeded.
I really passionately believe that it’s the other way around. They mission field hasn’t gone away. It’s come closer. Most of the people around us, whether born in another country or born in America have no clue what it means to be a Christian. The so-called “mission field” is next door. The message of Jesus not comprehended in Thailand, or Temple City.
And the same thing we said about the oikos principle applies on a world scale. (If you weren’t here last week, the oikos principle is that we all have a network of influence around us, and that most people come to faith in Jesus though the influence of that oikos network of family, friend, neighbors, schoolmates and so forth.)
What a missionary does is to intentionally move from one place to another with the purpose of establishing a new oikos network for the sake of making Jesus known. So someone from Nagaland (a state in Northeast India, where the population is 90% Christian) goes to New Delhi to make Jesus known among Hindus, or someone from South Korea goes to Pakistan to make Jesus known among Muslims, or someone from Florida goes to Cameroon to make Jesus known there.
In world missions, we have learned to do what Tom Clegg learned in inner city Chicago—to never tell the gospel without actually demonstrating the gospel. That’s why we sent teams for years to do water projects in villages on the Thai/Burma border. This isn’t “drive-by” missions. Now in that same location, Mike and Becky Mann are working to establish a school that will become a center for the evangelization of the Hill Tribes in that area.
We used another phrase last week that also applies: you have to immanuelize before you can evangelize. Going in to do water projects and build schools is part of the “immanuelization.” Jesus came into this world as our Immanuel, “God with us.” He got in our neighborhood and lived among us. He didn’t do a drive-by. Only after he’d lived among us for 30 years did He even start to preach. He proved the love of God by His way of life, then and only then did He tell the story and then go to the cross. He “immanuelized” before He evangelized! That’s the pattern He’s left for us to follow.
As a command, Jesus expects all of His disciples to get involved in making the Good News known. That’s why I encouraged you to fill out the My Connection Covenant card last week, and I hope you did. That’s why I encouraged you to decide now that you’ll be involved in our Day of Service on April 27. In the same way, I want to encourage you today to commit to pray for the world mission of Jesus. As a reminder today, see a greeter on the way out for this magnet; it just says, “Remember to Pray for World Missions/First Baptist Church, Temple City, CA.” My hope is that it will be a constant reminder to you that as a disciple of Jesus, He’s called you to be involved in making Him known to people near and far.
These are the basic commands of Jesus. Let’s review all seven:
1. Repent and believe: Mark 1:15
2. Be baptized (and continue in the new life it initiates): Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-11
3. Love God and neighbor in a practical way: Matthew 22:37-40
4. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper: Luke 22:17-20
5. Pray: Matthew 6:5-15
6. Give: Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 6:38
7. Disciple others: Matthew 28:18-20
Personally, I believe that believers who live this way will change the world. This is a way of life that is nothing less than revolutionary. I believe that a church that really lives by these basic commands is a transformed, New Testament people. These are people who don’t just go to church—they are the church.